Sep 13 2016

Wettable Feathers

For a bird that eats fish for a living, what possible advantage could there be in having feathers that get waterlogged?

Water beads up on the plumage of ducks and loons but the feathers of double-crested cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus) are “wettable” so they spend more than half their day out of the water loafing, preening and spreading their wings to dry as shown in the video above(*).

This wettability is not caused by a lack of oil on their feathers.  Instead it’s the feathers’ structure that allows them to get wet.

Combined with their solid, heavy bones, wettable feathers make cormorants less buoyant so it’s easier to stay underwater and hunt for fish.

The proof is in the eating.  Ta dah!  He caught a large catfish.

Double-crested cormorantwith catfish, Everglades National Park (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Double-crested cormorant with fish, Everglades National Park (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

 

Watch for double-crested cormorant numbers to build in western Pennsylvania this fall as they migrate south for the winter.

 

p.s. *Note: The bird in the video has a white feather or debris on top of his beak. It’s not a field mark.

(video from Cornell Lab of Ornithology, photo by R. Cammauf, National Park Service, via Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original.)

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Sep 12 2016

Chestnut-Sided Is Yellow Capped

Published by under Migration,Songbirds

Chestnut-sided warbler, Spring and Fall (photos by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren via Wikimedia Commons)

Chestnut-sided warbler, Spring and Fall (photos by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren via Wikimedia Commons)

Finally!  Last night’s north wind generated intense bird migration from the northeastern U.S. to Texas.  Here’s the 10:30pm EDT radar mosaic.  Wow!

A good night for migration in the eastern U.S. (radar mosaic from NWS, 11 Sep 2016, 22:28 EDT)

A good night for migration in the eastern U.S. (radar mosaic from NWS, 11 Sep 2016, 22:28 EDT)

This morning we’ll find lots of new arrivals from Pittsburgh to the Gulf Coast. Among them will be chestnut-sided warblers that no longer live up to their name.

In the spring (at left above) both sexes of the chestnut-sided warbler (Setophaga pensylvanica) have brownish red “chestnut” sides with a black eye line and malar stripes.  Their undersides are clear white from throat to tail and they have wing bars, yellow wing patches, a yellow cap, and something we rarely notice — yellow backs with black stripes.

In the fall their black accents are gone and most are missing the chestnut sides. Instead they have white eye rings!  The right hand photo shows this amazing transformation.

Fall chestnut-sided warblers retain their clear white throats and bellies, yellow wing bars, and their distinguishing characteristic — the yellow on top of their heads.  The color is muted now to yellow-green and extends to the nape and back.

What happened to the chestnut sides?  Adult males have a hint of chestnut, shown in the right hand photo, but the females and juveniles are missing it.  And just to make you crazy, fall bay-breasted warblers have chestnut sides and yellowish heads — but no eye ring.

So don’t expect to find a chestnut-sided warbler today.  Watch for the yellowish cap.

 

(chestnut-sided warbler comparison photos by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren via Wikimedia Commons. Click on these links to see the original photos in spring and fall)

 

 

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Sep 11 2016

Unusual Trees

Published by under Travel,Trees

Tree trunk bowed and bare (photo by Kate St. John)

Tree trunk, bowed and bare (photo by Kate St. John)

Last week I found some odd trees in Acadia National Park.

Above, a dead tree is bowed over in a perfect C, probably knocked over in its youth by wind, ice or another tree.

Below, the swirls on this cedar look like drapery.

Pattern of growth on cedar trunk (photo by Kate St. John)

Swirled pattern of growth on cedar trunk (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Evergreens usually lose their lower branches as they grow but the branches on this tree grew stout and curled up.  I can’t even imagine what caused this.

Odd branching on a pine, Mount Desert Island, Maine (photo by Kate St. John)

Odd branches, Mount Desert Island, Maine (photo by Kate St. John)

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

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Sep 10 2016

Avoiding Bad Weather

Published by under Migration

NOAA Doppler radar, national mosaic, 7 Sept 2016, 5:18am EDT (image from weather.gov)

NOAA Doppler radar, national mosaic, 7 Sept 2016, 5:18am EDT (image from weather.gov)

While traveling in Maine I kept in touch with home by reading the bird sightings on PABIRDS.  It was torture.  All the good warblers were in Pennsylvania, none in Maine.

Though Tropical Storm Hermine never made it to the Gulf of Maine it affected the weather from afar.  While Hermine spun itself out off the coast of New Jersey migrating birds avoided the northeast.

In the Doppler radar mosaic before dawn on Wednesday morning, Sept 7, you can see migrating birds as swaths of pale blue traveling through Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky to the coast of Georgia. The entire northeast is blank.

Now that I’m heading home the wind is about to change in Maine and birding will be good again.

Alas. The birds avoided bad weather but I could not.

 

(radar mosaic map from weather.gov)

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Sep 09 2016

In Only Two Months

Baby birds grow so fast!  Two months ago this loon chick was only one day old at Acadia National Park in Maine.  By now he’s as big as his parents and almost ready to migrate.

Every year I visit Acadia in early September (I’m there this week) but I arrive too late to see baby birds.  Claire Staples spent most of the summer in Maine and followed a family of loons at Beech Hill Pond.  Here’s what the chicks looked like as they got older.

At five weeks old, on August 3, the chicks are not as big as their parents and are still quite downy.  They swim but they cannot fly.

Fluffy loon chick waves his foot at 5 weeks old, 3 Aug 2016 (photo by Claire Staples)

Fluffy loon chick waves his foot at 5 weeks old, 3 Aug 2016 (photo by Claire Staples)

At six weeks old they still depend on their parents for food.

Adult loon brings food for 6-week-old chicks, 10 Aug 2016 (photo by Claire Staples)

Adult loon brings food for 6-week-old chicks, 10 Aug 2016 (photo by Claire Staples)

One of them really likes to wave his foot.  This is how they stretch their legs.

Closeup of 6-week-old loon chicks, 10 Aug 2016 (photo by Claire Staples)

Closeup of 6-week-old loon chicks, 10 Aug 2016 (photo by Claire Staples)

 

On August 24 they were eight weeks old and had lost their down. Now they resemble their parents.

Loon chicks eight weeks old at Beech Hill Pond, Maine (photo by Claire Staples)

Loon chicks eight weeks old at Beech Hill Pond, Maine, 24 Aug 2016 (photo by Claire Staples)

 

The Acadia chick hatched two weeks later than Claire’s loons so today he looks like the two in the photo above.

Soon the loons will leave the lakes to spend the winter along the coast.  They grow up in only two months.

 

(video by Ray Yeager on YouTube. Photos by Claire Staples)

p.s. On Wednesday I saw a loon adult and youngster on Jordan Pond.  Based on Claire’s photos the youngster must have been six weeks old.

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Sep 08 2016

The Sound of a Human Voice

Juvenile common raven (photo by M.I.K.E. via Shutterstock)

Juvenile common raven (photo from Shutterstock)

On Throw Back Thursday:

I heard the sound of a human voice calling “Ho!”  It was actually …

A Human Voice

 

(photo from Shutterstock)

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Sep 07 2016

Hey, People! Work With Me

Greater honeyguide (photo by Wilferd Duckitt via Wikimedia Commons)

Greater honeyguide (photo by Wilferd Duckitt via Wikimedia Commons)

Domestic birds work for us but here’s a wild bird who chooses to work with us.

Greater honeyguides (Indicator indicator) are wild birds in Africa known for leading humans to honey.  They eat bee eggs, larvae and beeswax but often can’t get at them because the bees fight them off.  So the birds enlist our help, “Hey, humans! Work with me.”

Chattering and fluttering in front of us, honeyguides lead us to the hives where we use smoke to subdue the bees and axes to open the tree trunks where the hives are hidden.  We get the honey.  The honeyguides get the insects and wax.

This active solicitation has gone on for thousands of years.  In July we learned a new twist in the story.

Claire Spottiswoode studied greater honeyguides in Mozambique and found that the solicitation works both ways.  People have a special call that means, “Come, honeyguide! Let’s go look for honey together.” The birds arrive and lead the way.

The calls vary by region. For instance, there’s one sound in Mozambique, another in Tanzania.  Listen to the story on NPR to hear them.

“Hey honeyguide! Come work with me.”

How the birds learned our calls is still unknown.

 

(photo from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)

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Sep 06 2016

Clean Air Is For The Birds, Sept 30

Published by under Books & Events

GASP Night at the Aviary event

You might be surprised to know that when I’m not birding I’m an active member of the Group Against Smog and Pollution (GASP), a 47-year old non-profit that fights for clean air in western Pennsylvania.

My history with GASP goes back to the late 1990’s when Pittsburgh’s mayor proposed a new coke plant at Hazelwood just after LTV’s heavily polluting plant closed in 1998.  I live one mile as the crow flies from that site and had to breathe LTV’s proof that their coke plant polluted too much to stay open.  When the plant closed, we suddenly had clean air so the prospect of new pollution was frightening.  LTV changed my life.  They made me fight for good air quality.

My concern extends to birds, too.  We don’t often think about it but what’s bad for our health is also bad for wildlife.  Clean air is for the birds? You bet!

On September 30 I’ll speak on this topic at GASP’s annual fundraiser. Held at the National Aviary, the event includes private admission, three live bird encounters, craft making for kids, auctions, and great food.  It’s a family friendly event with lots of birds.

GASP will also present a Lifetime Achievement Award to Board member Walter Goldburg, PhD who helped found GASP in 1969.  Walter has inspired us all.

For more information, click here or on the event logo below:

Clean Air is For The Birds

It’s a fundraiser so tickets are…
Members: $50
Non-Members: $65 (includes membership)
Child: $20

Register online here.

Clean air is for the birds … and people too!

 

(GASP Night at the Aviary logo)

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Sep 05 2016

Last Day of Summer

Waves and ! at Ocean Beach (photo by Broken Inaglory via Wikimedia Commons)

Waves and marbled godwit at low tide. Ocean Beach, California (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

On this last day of summer, may you find a marbled godwit at the beach.

Happy Labor Day!

 

(photo by Brocken Inaglory via Wikimedia Commons.  Click on the image to see the original)

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Sep 04 2016

The Skunk Whisperer

Published by under Mammals

Skunk Videos, Day 3:

Skunks in the window well?

Yesterday’s long video showed Ray Kremer’s success in getting the skunks out of his window well but the comment on his video says they went right back in there the next day.

Here’s a guy who can “whisper” them out.

And he probably recommends a window well cover.

By the way, skunks can carry rabies without showing any symptoms.  Do not handle skunks!  This guy is a professional from SkedaddleWildlife in Ontario, Canada.

 

p.s. Don’t even dream of keeping a wild baby skunk as a pet. In most states it’s illegal. Where they are legal you must get a permit and must get the skunk from a breeder, not from the wild, to insure that the pet is not carrying rabies.

(video from SkedaddleWildlife on YouTube)

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